The Board of Directors, Trustees and staff of CCF USA spent this weekend in Chicago (a year ago we met in Washington, DC, and the year prior, in New York). Unfortunately we were unable to visit much of this great city, but were happy to enjoy the warmth and hospitality of our very dynamic Chicago Chapter and volunteers. We were also thrilled to have as guests two of our CCF UK Trustees who for the first time were able to join us in the US.
On Friday, our Chicago Chapter Chair, Jayne Bazos, hosted us at an informal get together to welcome all of us and get everyone to meet one another. Karin Schwartz, who has worked with cheetahs for many years, surprised us with her beautiful piano playing! If we hadn’t had to start our meetings early on Saturday, we probably would have stayed there all night because we were having so much fun putting faces behind the names of people we work with all the time!
Saturday a long but productive day. Our CCF USA Board met in the morning to discuss ways in which to raise more funds to support CCF’s programs in Namibia and every country where there are still cheetahs. In the afternoon, staff and trustees joined in for discussions about the future. We all came back home with homework as the different focus groups have to prepare a proposal for various areas that aim at helping our fast-growing organization to succeed. Dr. Stephen O’Brien, CCF USA’s Chairman of the Board (photo left, giving us directives for the breakout sessions), did a fantastic job moderating and keeping us all focused on the matters that matter.
After a long day, we all enjoyed a delicious Lebanese dinner at a local restaurant, kindly hosted by one of our Board members, and then it was back to work on Sunday morning. We are so grateful to the DuPuis family, long-time cheetah friends, who allowed us to hold our sessions at the beautiful DuPuis Group offices in downtown Chicago. They certainly gave us the royal treatment and made sure we did not go hungry!
Our Sunday sessions lasted only ½ day since everyone had to get ready for the Gala (of course Chapter and volunteers worked most of the day getting everything ready at the venue). The gala was held at the beautiful building that houses the Newberry Library. I read on a plaque that the building was the only one in the path of the great fire of 1871 that did not burn! I was glad to learn this because the building is such a beautiful architectural piece.
The Chicago Chapter did a tremendous job with the Gala. Volunteers from the Brookfield Zoo (photo, with our Chairman and Dr. Marker) were working tirelessly to ensure that our guests were enjoying themselves and sharing information about CCF’s work with videos being played around the room. Guests also had a chance to view videos of the Chicago Run for the Cheetah event held last April. There was a great display of cheetah and African merchandise (photo below), from jewelry to tees to pillows and purring cheetahs, including Dr. O’Brien’s book, Tears of the Cheetah. And the silent auction was so impressive with over 50 items donated by so many people and businesses that I wish I could list them all. There was beautiful cheetah art, gift certificates, tapestries, and even a scooter!
About 150 guests gasped almost in unison when a one-year-old cheetah, Roe, and a one-year-old dog, Riese, entered the room to join our Executive Director, Dr. Laurie Marker, with their handlers Keith and Elissa. Roe and Riese are educational ambassadors who often travel with Jack Hanna of the Columbus Zoo. They help Jack explain to his audiences how Anatolian Shepherds such as Riese are being used by CCF in Namibia as Livestock Guarding Dogs to help avoid human-predator conflict and thus save cheetahs. A slide show of beautiful cheetah photos by photographer Larry Boutman, which ran throughout the evening, seemed to awaken Roe’s interest, especially when a running Thomson gazelle was shown. No one there could help giggling when seeing Roe’s reaction to the photo, which was quite a surprise to us since Roe is a captive-born cheetah who has never hunted.
Laurie talked about cheetahs and explained the threats that Roe’s wild relatives face today. She explained what CCF is doing to ensure the long-term survival of the cheetah. With Roe’s constant (and loud) purring in the background, gala guests learned from Laurie that the cheetah could be gone in just 20 years if we –and ‘we’ means everyone—don’t do anything to prevent such stark future. Attendees learned that CCF’s programs are effective because they are restoring cheetah habitat, and because they provide people who share the land with cheetahs with the necessary knowledge and tools (such as the dogs) to avoid conflict with this magnificent predator. None of this would happen without events like this gala that help us raise awareness and funding to continue with our work. Everyone who attended the gala played an important role in CCF’s efforts.
Our immense thanks to our Board, Trustees, Chapter members and volunteers who work so hard and yet took the time out of their busy lives to make this weekend so productive, fun, and successful.